What if President-elect Bush had named outgoing Sen. John Ashcroft (R.-Mo.) as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission instead of attorney general? It would have meant bedlam at the National Association of Broadcasters.
Four years ago, when the NAB wanted spectrum for digital television, Ashcroft proposed taking away all of the spectrum from TV stations and auctioning it to the wireless phone industry, using the proceeds to hook every TV set in the country up to cable. Under the Ashcroft plan still in rough form, former TV stations would endure bygaining free mandatory carriage to cable systems.
"My commitment is to maintain free television, but I do not have a commitment to maintain free broadcast television if that misallocates a valuable resource of the country-namely, spectrum." NBC president and CEO Robert Wright described Ashcroft's plan as collectivization on steroids: "Isn't that what they did in Russia in the old days? Isn't that what Castro said? 'That's a nice sugar plantation. I think the government should operate this.'" Ashcroft's involvementin digital TV might not be merely theoretical. Will he provide court backing for an FCC that imposes digital must-carry on cable operators before TV stations have returned their analog spectrum? Stay tuned.
. San Diego schools that collected food for the needy this Christmas found their largesse rewarded by the local Time Warner Cable system. The operator and its co-sponsors-Union Bank of California, Qualcomm, Food Network and Pizza Hut- rewarded the three top schools with pizza parties and $17,000 in technology grants.
Division president Jeff Schwall, president of the San Diego division, gave the $10,000 technology granted first prize to Sacred Heart Parish School of Coronado during a presentation at the San Diego Food Bank. The operator's "community spirit challenge" goosed the food collection rate to 77,000 pounds, enough to help the food bank reach its goal of feeding 25,000 people.
.Roy Neel's leave of absence from the presidency of the United States Telecom Association will end around Feb.1. Neel dropped the job in September to help the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore, his longtime friend and former boss. Neel was Gore's choice to handle one of the most politically sensitive tasks
a leading presidential candidate must discreetly undertake: mapping plans and naming people for a new administration. "I'll tell you, Roy has done a really terrific job in a very awkward situation, obviously, being the transition chairman for five weeks past the election. So now he has no transition, basically," said Gary Lytle, who has been serving as interim USTA president. Lytle, who once headed Ameritech Corp.'s Washington office, has no immediate job plans. "I'll be in the unemployed area," he said.
.It ain't easy being an underpaid, underappreciated and overworked public-interest attorney waging policy warfare against the likes of AT&T Corp., America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, showed signs of merger fatigue recently inone of those letters FCC lobbyistshave to write
that attempt to explain the tenor of their private meetings with FCC officials to the public. On Dec. 22, Schwartzman wrote that he met with FCC Commissioner Michael Powell to discuss AT&T Corp.'s sale of its 25-percent interest in Time Warner Entertainment. Schwartzman noted that attending the meeting with Powell was "his legal assistant Kyle Pope." Schwartzman got his Kyles confused. Kyle Dixon is a lawyer who works for Powell. Kyle Pope is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. "I am not going to file an erratum!" Schwartzman said in an electronic-mail reply to a request for clarification.